Transportation Security Administration

TSA: 2018 was record-breaking year for guns found at airports

TSA’s Year in Review came out today with the (still somewhat unofficial) final stats on the number of guns TSA officers found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints last year.

The total for 2018 is a record-setting 4,239 firearms found in carry-on bags at 249 of the more than 400 TSA-controlled airport checkpoints around the country.

That’s up more than 7 percent from the 3,957 firearms TSA officers found in carry-on bags in 2017.

And that averages out to 81.6 firearms a week and 11.6 firearms a day.

The break-down gets more alarming when we look at the stats on the number of guns found to be loaded.

Of the 4,239 firearms found last year, more than 86% (3,656) were loaded (another record) and almost 34% (1,432) of the firearms found had a round chambered.

Why do so many passengers show up at airports with guns?

“I think the biggest reason is that people go buy these things and then completely forget they have them, which is dangerous in its own right,” said aviation security expert Jeff Price, the owner of Leading Edge Strategies, “I imagine when they get the gun, at first they are always aware of it because they feel safer. Then, after a period of time, it works its way to the bottom of the bag and next thing that happens is its discovered at a screening checkpoint.”

Price also suspects that because more people are carrying guns these days and carry those guns in purses and laptops, they are aware they have the guns, “But in the hustle and confusion of preparing for a trip, they forget to take the gun out. “

TSA’s Year in Review also lists the top 10 airports for firearm discoveries in 2018.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) the Top 10 list with 298 firearms found. (253 loaded.) That’s an increase of 53 compared to 2017.

ATL also set the record for the airport with the most firearms discovered in one month: In August 2018, 32 firearms were found at ATL checkpoints.

Here’s the rest of TSA’s Top 10 list of airports for firearms discoveries in 2018:

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 219 (193 loaded)

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): 129 (120 loaded)

Denver International Airport (DEN): 126 (95 loaded)

Orlando International Airport (MCO): 123 (112 loaded)

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 117 (115 loaded). Some good news here: this is a decrease of 25 compared to 2017.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 96 (80 loaded)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS): 93 (76 loaded)

Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL): 89 (83 loaded)    

Nashville International Airport (BNA): 86 (80 loaded)

In a year when TSA also screened a record number of travelers (813.8 million; a 5.5 percent increase over 2017), the agency’s officers also found a wide variety of prohibited items and ‘artfully concealed’ objects other than firearms in carry-on bags, including inert grenades, a bottle of lighter fluid, fireworks and knife combs.

TSA’s week in review also notes the loss in 2018 of Curtis “Blogger Bob” Burns, the charmingly corny TSA employee who chronicled the agency’s odd finds on the TSA blog, on Twitter and on Instagram. Burns is featured in quirky videos highlighting TSA Top 10 Most Unusual Finds in 2016 and in 2017.

TSA’s Year in Review promises that a video highlighting 2018’s most unusual finds will be released soon.

TSA keeps $531,000 left behind by travelers

moneybags

Frazzled and forgetful passengers left more than a half million dollars in spare change in the plastic bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints last year.

That’s about $45,000 more than the amount left behind in 2011, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

What happens to all that money?

TSA makes “every effort to reunite passengers with items left at security checkpoints,” said agency spokesperson Nico Melendez. But all those nickels, dimes, quarters – and a smattering of poker chips and crumpled bills – usually end up getting counted, forwarded to the TSA financial office and then spent on general security operations.

Congress approved that TSA expenditure in 2005, but some lawmakers and passengers rights groups are unhappy TSA gets to keep the change.

In 2009, and again in 2011, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced unsuccessful legislation that would require TSA to give the unclaimed cash to the United Service Organizations (USO), a private nonprofit that operates centers for military personnel at more than 40 U.S. airports. The lawmaker plans to reintroduce the bill soon, “as a stand alone measure and as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill,” Dan McFaul, a spokesman for Miller’s office, told NBC News.

Money left behind by passengers at airport checkpoints is “a windfall TSA does not deserve to keep,” said Paul Hudson, executive director FlyersRights.org, a non-profit consumer organization. But rather than give the money to the USO, he’d like the funds to go to nonprofit groups that look out for the rights of travelers. “Passengers pay a lot of taxes on airline tickets and there is currently no government funding in the United States for organizations that seek to help passengers,” he said.

“Common sense would dictate that the money is returned to the people who lost it … travelers,” said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. But he doubts TSA will ever be required by law to give the change left at airport checkpoints to passenger rights organizations.

If the TSA continues to be able to keep the left-behind money though, Macsata would like the agency to be directed to use it for staff training “to better educate them on how to appropriately handle and treat unique travelers, including travelers with medical conditions, children and travelers with disabilities.”

TSA’s Melendez doesn’t know why passengers leave money in the plastic bins at airports, but says “placing spare change or any other items in a purse or briefcase prior to going through security is the easiest and best way to maintain positive control of your belongings.”

Denver International Airport has another option for travelers approaching the checkpoints with change in their pockets. Earlier this month, the airport installed collection jars on the non secure-side of several checkpoints asking travelers to donate change to Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless.

 

Spare change left behind at airport checkpoints

  • 2012 — $531,395.22
  • 2011 — $487,869.50
  • 2010 — $409,085.56
  • 2009 — $432,790.62

Data courtesy TSA

(My story: Travelers left more than $500,00 at airport checkpoints last year; TSA keeps the change, first appeared on NBCNews.com.)